Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making Master Mixes or Individual Prepackaged Mixes at Home

Sometimes, I like the convenience of having a master mix but I don't want all the chemicals and whatnot that are in commercial mixes. Plus, I like the taste of the recipes I normally use and they're expensive when compared to how much it costs to make it at home.

Want those $4-$8 fancy bread machine mixes? Want taco seasoning? Cinnamon toast "seasoning"? Cookie mixes? Pancake mixes? Cake mixes? Hot chocolate? Bean Dip? Baking Mix (ala Bisquick)? "Cream of whatever" soups to cook with? You know, those just add liquids, the contents of the package, mix and cook mixes? Those pricy who-knows-what's REALLY in them and has it been recalled mixes? What to do? Why make your OWN!

Make them yourself! Yes. You. CAN. Cheaper, no chemicals. Nothing but what YOU put in it. That taste like YOU made them at home - because you did! And did I mention - it's CHEAPER?!! You don't need anything special and I'll be that the ingredients are already on your shelf.

What are "prepackaged" mixes? Why nothing more than packages of (usually) dry ingredients that you add in the liquid to at home and then bake. Yeah, it's really THAT simple. You can do prepackaging of wet ingredients, but then it has to be used in a rather short period of time or frozen. For starters, stick to dry ingredient items.

 "Cream of whatever" soups CAN be made dry and then the liquid added back into them. They can even be "dairy free" and even GLUTEN-FREE if you use dried beans that you've milled into flour. Don't even HAVE to have a mill. I've done it in a coffee grinder (I don't drink coffee, so I don't have to worry about imparting a "coffee" flavor to my flour. I'd use a dedicated grinder for grinding grains.) And used a small canning jar instead of my large blender jar and "blended" the grains/beans into flour. (Bet you didn't know you can do this with any US blender. Yep, the "business" end of the blender will fit onto standard mason jars. You can use it like a "Bullet blender". No need to buy one!!) AND I've used my food processor to blend things to a flour.

Really, you can do this with ANY recipe that has dry ingredients in it. Pre-measure the dry ingredients into storage bags, jars, or whatever you like and store for later. Then when you're ready to cook, you've already got a lot of the work done for you.

And you can opt to do it two different ways. You can either store them in individual, pre-measured packets or as master mixes that you'll scoop out the designated amount of mix and go from there.

Individual Packets:

It's easy to do and I do this with my favorite bread machine recipes. While I'm measuring out the dry ingredients into the ABM pan, I line up several storage bags and measure out all the dry ingredients (including yeast) into the bags as well. I roll up each bag to remove air, zip or snap close and then mix the ingredients together so the yeast doesn't end up concentrated in one spot. I then put the smaller bags together in either a larger storage bag or a repurposed #10 can and mark what's in the bag. Since I use all whole wheat, I store them in the freezer so I don't lose the vitamins in the wheat. When I'm ready to bake, I open my cabinet over where the ABM sits, look at the 3x5 card taped inside with just the liquids I need listed that I need to add to the machine. Measure those out and dump into the pan, add one bag of the mix from the freezer and start the machine. Spend about 3 minutes adjusting the flour/water ratio and you're good to go. Perfect each time - well each time the power doesn't go out - in the middle of bread making! (Take it out, finish kneading it, if needed; let the dough rest for about 15 minutes, flatten the dough out into tortilla/pita/naan size portions and cook using "alternative cooking methods" - unless the power is back on. Then you'd just let it rise, shape into loaf, let it rise again and bake. You can even let it rise once in the ABM pan and then turn the ABM to the "bake" setting. No need to heat the whole house for one loaf of bread.

"Master" mixes:

Making master mixes takes a few minutes longer the first time you convert the recipe and some EASY kitchen math, but once you've done it the that first time and WRITE DOWN the "master" recipe, it's a breeze there-after!

You need to measure out - down to the portion of a tsp, how much a single recipe makes. Next, decide how many portions you want to store. Multiply EACH item in the recipe by that number, writing down how much you'll need in total. You'll only have to do this the first time you make this "master mix". (Just WRITE DOWN that amount and there-after you'll know) Then place your ingredients into a storage container MIX THEM WELL, mark how much you need to measure out for a single recipe and store that info on the container. When you want to use the recipe measure out that amount, add the liquid for one batch and cook.

Some basic kitchen math. Remember that 1 cup = 16 Tbs and 1 Tbs =3 tsp. So...
1/4 cup = 4 Tbs
1/3 cup = 5 Tbs, 1 tsp
1/2 cup = 8 Tbs
2/3 cup = 10 Tbs, 2 tsp
3/4 cup = 12 Tbs.

And measure carefully as you go so you have consistent results. So you can scoop, but make sure you use a knife or other flat object to sweep the excess off of the top to level it out. Do this for both measuring cups AND measuring spoons. Even a little bit too much or too little will affect how most recipes will turn out. (And yes, the queen of scoop-and-shake-off-the-excess actually does this with EVERY master mix and EVERY bread machine recipe I make.)

For instance, for a single recipe of ABM bread I need 3 1/2 cups flour, 3 tbs sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbs gluten, 2 tsp yeast. Mix this together and measure how much dry ingredients you end up with. (It comes out to 3 cups, 12 Tbs, 2 tsp which converts to 3 3/4 cups, 2 tsp for one batch.)  I want to have 6 batches stored. I measure out 21 cups of flour, 1 cup + 2 Tbs sugar, 2 Tbs salt, 6 Tbs gluten and 3 Tbs yeast. I mix that in a large container and when ready to use, measure out a single portion and add it to the liquid this recipe needs. (1 1/4 cup warm water, 3 Tbs olive oil). Turn on machine, adjust flour/water as needed to get the proper dough consistency. You really should do this each time you use your ABM anyway because it gives better result bread. It takes all of about 3 minutes or so to stand there and adjust it.

That's it. Yep. Not rocket science after all, though when you read the labels on prepackaged foods you'd think it was. 

If you'd normally cream butter and sugar together like for making cookies and cakes, doing this will change the way the recipe comes out. But you can always opt to measure the sugar into separate bags and grab a bag out for each batch you make. However, you buy pre-measured packages of cookie dough and cake mixes and it's all mixed together for you.

Shelf life:

The shelf life of any product will depend on how hot/cold the temperature is where it's stored and whether it has oils/shortening/butter, baking powder or whole grains that have been milled in it. These items shorten the "life-span" of mixes on a shelf. That's why all the chemicals are in store-bought mixes. It stops things from going rancid, though it can't stop baking powder from losing it's "oomph" nor loss of vitamins in the food. The solution to this is to either make smaller amounts of mixes and/or store them in fridge or freezer.And know that if you use butter in place of shortening, it needs to be refrigerated.

As far as I can tell from my research, most mixes that don't have shortening in it will last for 6-9 months on a shelf in room temperature. If it has shortening in it, 3-6 months. Spices are good for a year before they start to lose their potency. (And the year starts from when they're picked, not when you make the mix.)  If my spices are a little older, I just add a "tad" more to make up for the loss.

Using "food storage" items:

In some places, it's easy to find things like powdered milk, eggs and butter. It's quite all right to use these in place of the "real" thing in your mixes. I live in an area where I have to special order them and they are expensive, so I don't use them in the prepackaged mixes I make. However, to use them just substitute each item you want to use with it's DRY equivalent. Then remember to add the liquid you'd use to rehydrate it into the total liquid when you go to cook with it. So if you're using powdered egg and want to sub out 2 eggs, measure out the dry amount of egg powder (I think it's one Tbs per egg - so 2 Tbs) and mix that into the dry ingredients. Then when you go to make your mix, add in the liquid amount called for (I think it's 2 Tbs per egg, so 4 Tbs. And that 4 Tbs WILL make a difference in a lot of recipes - it's 1/4 CUP!)